UCLA advances past Kent State

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[March 18, 2017]  SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- At one point, the score was almost as scary as the sight of Lonzo Ball crashing to the floor, but UCLA overcame both to beat Kent State 97-80 in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night at the Golden 1 Center.

TJ Leaf scored 23 points for the third-seeded Bruins (30-4), who will play sixth-seeded Cincinnati in a second-round South Regional game on Sunday.

Thomas Welsh had 16 points and eight rebounds for UCLA. Aaron Holiday came off the bench to post 15 points and 11 assists. Ball also scored 15 points and broke UCLA's single-season assist record. Isaac Hamilton added 14 points.

Jaylin Walker scored 23 points for 14th-seeded Kent State (22-14). Jimmy Hall had 20 points and 15 rebounds, and Deon Edwin scored 18.

Ball played with tape on his sprained left thumb and Leaf wore a brace on his sprained left ankle, but neither seemed to be bothered by their injuries.

Ball drained a 3-pointer to give UCLA an early 11-2 lead. Leaf threw down a soaring dunk on a feed from Holiday to put the Bruins up 31-15 later in the first half.

"I thought they did a really good job, obviously as freshmen, playing in their first tournament game," UCLA coach Steve Alford said. "I thought they were really good."

Despite the hot start by UCLA, Kent State refused to quit. The Golden Flashes responded with a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to nine.

Leaf and Holiday made 3-pointers to help the Bruins push the lead to 18, but the Golden Flashes ended the half with a 13-4 run to get within eight at the break.

UCLA received a scare late in the first half when Ball landed hard on his right side after trying to catch a lob near the basket. Ball clutched his right hip, was helped to his feet and had a noticeable limp in the final minute of the half, but he appeared to be moving freely in the second half.

Ball said he felt better after the game.

"I'm fine," he said. "Finished the game. Got up. I'm good."

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Alford said he was concerned when he saw Ball hit the floor.

"I didn't know if he was going to finish the game," Alford said. "I just wanted him to get up. He went down hard, obviously, and he will probably be sore, but we've got a great medical staff and this kid to my right is pretty tough, so I don't think it's anything to worry about."

Kent State carried its momentum into the second half. The Golden Flashes got within six on a layup by Hall and later cut the deficit to four on a 3-pointer by Walker with just over 16 minutes remaining, but UCLA staged a 16-2 run to take control.

Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said he was proud of his team's effort.

"That's sort of how we have played all season long and we're a good second-half team," he said. "We've been down at halftime a lot of games, so I thought cutting it to single digits at halftime was important and we had a great start to the second half. I thought we played as hard as we could play, and as a coach that's all you can ask for."

NOTES: UCLA freshman F Ike Anigbogu was held out of the game after spraining an ankle in practice Tuesday. ... UCLA is trying to reach the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years. ... Kent State made its sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and its first since 2008. The Golden Flashes reached the Elite Eight in 2002. ... In a stunning upset, Flash the Golden Eagle defeated Joe Bruin in a mascot dance-off during a first-half timeout.

[ 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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